Does your TV have one-touch access to apps for Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and HBO Go? Not all smart, connected TVs are equal – they differ greatly in looks and apps – but all can get online, most using Wi-Fi.
There is no industry standard for smart TV, so every brand of television has a different platform of apps, though expect to find everything from sport, weather and on-demand video and movies to 3D content, games and social networking.
What’s the best connected TV platform? That will depend on what you’re after; some smart TV systems excel with a wide range of on-demand apps from US TV channels, others with on-demand movies.
We’ve ranked the US’s major connected TV platforms in descending order, putting just as much emphasis on ease of use as app selection, to help you as you buy into a whole new generation of online television.
1. LG Smart TV
LG’s connected TV platform gets the nod largely because of its oh-so-simple design that puts seemingly disparate sources of video onto one home screen. Our favourite part of LG’s smarty-pants user interface hasn’t got anything to do with apps, but rather with networking. SmartShare software displays any video, photo or MP3 file stored on a networked PC, Mac or NAS drive, USB flash drive or HDD, on the home screen – and as a thumbnail image.
It’s beautifully simple, and file support is huge, though for those wanting an even more comprehensive treatment, LG also offers the MediaLink (formerly called Plex) app that adds movie artwork and other data. Beloved of rampant downloaders and networkers it might be, but SmartShare is made complete by a thoroughly decent selection of apps – and that includes a useful 3D World.
The Premium page hosts Netflix and YouTube, with lesser-known apps comprising Absolute Radio, Red Bull TV, ITN, Autocar, YouTube, Blinkbox, CineTrailer, Cartoon Network, HiT, Picasa, iConcerts, AccuWeather and Box Office 365.
LG announced in March 2013 that its Blu-ray players and home cinemas would also carry an app for Spotify in the Premium Apps section, though it’s not been added to its smart TVs. The SmartWorld app store, however, contains little of note aside from Skype.
As well as shortcuts to apps and widgets, and full mastery of the TV, a free LG TV Remote app puts a live TV picture on a smartphone that mirrors what’s playing on the TV. Searches for content across its apps and the web result in source-specific results – and it’s a search that can be done on some of LG’s flagship TVs (such as the LG 47LA860W and LG 55LA740V) by speaking into the Magic Remote pointer-style remote control. It works a treat.
It’s not got the most extensive choice of apps, but LG’s Smart TV platform succeeds on ease of use – and spectacularly so. This is connected TV at it user-friendly best.
Six LG TVs with Smart TV:
- LG 55LA740V 50-inch midrange Smart TV
- LG 42LS570T 42-inch smart TV offering excellent value
- LG 50PM670T 50-inch Active Shutter 3D plasma TV
- LG 47LM860V 47-inch Cinema 3D LED TV
- LG 47LM760T 47-inch Cinema 3D LED TV
- LG 47LM960V 47-inch Cinema 3D Nano LED TV
2. Panasonic Smart Viera
While it doesn’t quite gel with the TV’s central architecture, Panasonic’s new My Home Screen user interface is the freshest, newest idea in connected TV. It takes design cues from both LG and Samsung, though the customisation options on My Home Screen are unique.
Numerous pages can be created sporting different layouts and even wallpaper, all with specially created icons and shortcuts to widgets. TV Home Screen, Lifestyle Screen and Info Screen are typical, though you can just as easily create Bob’s Apps or Dad’s Screen using the free text entry.
Is that kind of customisation really needed? Probably not, but it’s a very flexible system nonetheless.
All screens have a a live TV thumbnail, which is crucial. It’s fluid, it’s smooth, and it’s got just enough apps inside it, including YouTube, BBC Sport, iConcerts, Skype, Netflix, Dailymotion, CNBC Real-Time, PlayJam Games, SHOUTcast Radio, Aupeo, Chess Challenge, Rovi TV Listings, Facebook and Twitter.
Part of the new, free Viera Remote 2 smartphone app, Swipe & Share 2.0 can be used to physically push a photo, MP3 or even a (home-made) MOV video from the device’s touchscreen to the TV itself. It works vice-versa, too, so that digital files stored on USB flash drives attached to the a Smart Viera TV can be streamed to a phone or tablet. As a piece of connected TV technology, it’s mightily impressive.
Six Panasonic TVs with Smart Viera:
- Panasonic TX-P60ZT65 60-inch Flagship plasma screen with smart TV
- Panasonic TX-P50VT65 50-inch Second tier plasma with smart TV
- Panasonic TX-L55ET60 55-inch LED smart TV
- Panasonic TX-L42DT65B 42-inch smart TV with second-screen excellence
- Panasonic TX-L47ET60B 47-inch third tier LED smart TV
- Panasonic TX-L42E6B 42-inch LED smart TV offering excellent value
3. Samsung Smart Hub
Now expanded to five separate screens – one each for TV, on-demand films, social media, Samsung’s apps, and your own digital media – Samsung’s Smart Hub is the only connected TV platform that includes catch-up TV apps for all terrestrial channels in the UK.
As well as Five, 4OD and ITV Player (exclusively so), Smart Hub includes KnowHow Movies, Netflix, Lovefilm (though it’s a download from the Samsung Apps store, not onboard as a default), Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Viewster, Dailymotion, Absolute Radio and some unusual apps such as Curzon On Demand, NatGeo Images, BFI, Digital Theatre plays, TED and TuneIn internet radio.
All Samsung Smart TVs now include S Recommendation, which suggests content from both live TV and its video-based apps based on your viewing habits. It’s also a good system for conducting manual searches, though unlike LG it doesn’t tell you where each video it’s found is being sourced from.
Some of its flagship TVs – such as the Samsung UE55F8000 and Samsung UE40F6400 go further, offering voice and gesture control, though neither is as reliable as it could be.
Samsung’s Smart View app can stream a clone of live TV to any tablet or phone, or a different channel to the one being watched on the TV (if the TV has two tuners), while those with Samsung Galaxy devices can mirror their phone or tablet’s small screen on the TV’s big one using the AllShare Play app.
Six Samsung TVs with Smart Hub:
- Samsung UE55F8000 55-inch smart TV from the flagship range
- Samsung UE40F6400 40-inch smart TV for a bargain price
- Samsung PS64F8500 64-inch smart TV with stunning plasma performance
- Samsung UE46F7000 46-inch smart TV with sexy looks and a fair price
- Samsung UE32EH5000 32-inch smart TV is one TV’s biggest bargains
4. Sony Entertainment Network (SEN)
SEN-sational? Hardly, though Sony’s stab at smart TV has a lush new look. Well organised and with a crisp, modern user interface that floats over live TV, the new list-style menu comes complete with a handy History option showing you the inputs and programmes you’ve watched most recently. However, press the SEN button on the remote and you just get a long list of all the apps available on Sony’s connected TV service.
SEN is built around Sony’s own increasingly impressive Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services, but it also includes Demand 5, Netflix, BBC News, Sony’s Entertainment Television library, BBC Sport, a Sony-branded channel of 3D content, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Picasa and Skype. Hundreds of other minor video apps and games apps – as well as widgets galore – also exist.
The Sony KDL-55W905A and Sony KDL-47W805 come with a second ultra-slim remote control fitted with an NFC chip. Tap it against an NFC-capable portable device – such as the Sony Xperia Z smartphone (and plenty of other Android devices besides) to instantly link to the TV. Hassle-free screen mirroring follows.
Sony’s free TV SideView app for smartphones and tablets is one of the best presented we’ve seen to date, though it only deals in second-screen browsing of the TV listings and your digital media (as well as putting your chosen TV show or media file on the TV, remote control-style).
Sadly there’s no second screen viewing, so you can’t stream video from the TV to your portable device for, say, watching in another room. Voice and gesture controls are sadly lacking on Sony TVs, too.
Six Sony TVs with SEN:
- Sony KDL-55W905A 55-inch flaghip smart TV, best in class
- Sony KDL-40W905A 40-inch version of the above smart TV
- Sony KDL-47W805 47-inch smart TV from Sony’s second tier
- Sony KD-65X9005A 65-inch 4K Ultra HD smart TV
- Sony KDL-46HX853 46-inch 3D LED TV
- Sony KDL-46HX923 46-inch 3D LED TV
5. Toshiba Cloud TV
It’s been refreshed for 2014, but Toshiba’s connected TV package isn’t a huge improvement on its previous Toshiba Places platform. Looking like a cross between Samsung and Panasonic’s smart TV gubbins, Cloud TV is split between separate screens for Home, Premium Apps and TV & Video.
Those Premium Apps comprise Netflix, Deezer, Blinkbox, YouTube, BBC Sport, BBC News and Viewster, while the ‘More’ tab leads to another page that adds the likes of KnowHow Movies, LIVE Sport TV, Vimeo, iConcerts, Funspot, Woomi, Dailymotion, Aupeo and Facebook. There is no external app store.
The Home page has a live TV area, but much larger is its central Events section that’s designed to show your diary (though entering events is painful) above a ‘Trending on Twitter’ section that expands to an entire page (of nonsense). An Inbox area confusingly shows messages from avatars that contain recommendations of things to watch.
The Premium Apps page also contains video adverts for Viewster, Netflix and Deezer above a banner advert, and so does the TV & Video page that simply groups together all of Cloud TV’s video-based apps, adding Skype along the way.
The basic remote control app has no second screen functions, while a dedicated Toshiba Cloud TV app is available (for iOS users only) that in theory should make it easier to use the calendar function. However, setting it up and linking devices involves a mess of accounts, passwords and pairing codes. Most users will give up early on.
Six Toshiba TVs with Cloud TV:
- Toshiba 46TL968B 46-inch LED TV offering solid value
- Toshiba 47WL968 47-inch 3D LED TV
- Toshiba 42VL963 42-inch 3D LED TV
- Toshiba 46TL963 46-inch 3D LED TV
- Toshiba 55VL963 55-inch 3D LED TV
- Toshiba 40RL953 40-inch LED TV
6. Philips Smart TV
Philips’ system has a thumbnail that displays – with sound – either live TV or a live video source, a Tweet button and a fresh design that puts all apps along the bottom of the screen. In fact, Philips has created a roomy connected TV interface that borders on looking classy.
That, however, it where the good stuff ends.
Twitter and Facebook (combined in a Social TV app) besides, there’s Picasa, iConcerts, and a link to an App Gallery that includes stuff such as CNBC Real Time, Skype, Napster, Absolute Radio, Aupeo, Viewster, Funspot, ebay, MeteoConsult, Foreca weather, the saucy trio of Hustler, Private and Brazzers, and… Tom Tom HD Traffic. Blinkbox and its one-off movie rentals saves the platform from obscurity.
Basic and in need of some content, Philips’ smart TV effort – as seen on the Philips 42PFL6008 – is nevertheless straightforward to use and decidedly uncluttered – though there is an uncomfortable reason for that.
Philips offers its MyRemote app; its Wi-Fi Smart Screen feature puts whatever live TV channel is playing on the TV onto a phone, while SimplyShare streams photos and music stored on a phone (or any other networked device) to be viewed on the TV. Nice, but it’s not exactly a second screen.
Six Philips TVs with Smart TV:
- Philips 42PFL6008 42-inch smart TV
- Philips 42PFL6007T 42-inch affordable smart TV
- Philips 46PFL9707 46-inch Moth Eye 3D LED TV
- Philips 55PFL6007T 55-inch 3D LED TV
- Philips 46PFL7007 46-inch 3D LED TV
- Philips 46PFL8007 46-inch 3D LED TV